Sergei Golubev — my story

Me running The UX Conference at the Design Museum in 2018

Hi 👋🏻, I’m Sergei Golubev — a user experience designer, entrepreneur and foodie from the hidden Nordic gem Estonia, living in London since 2005.

My colleagues call me “devigner” (what a term they came up with; apparently, it’s a hybrid between being a designer and a developer 🤷🏻‍♂️). I’ve been designing software for companies like Microsoft, Heathrow, British Gas, numerous fintech organisations and startups for 15+ years. In 2016, I’ve founded The School of UX in London— offering accessible education in digital design to everyone.

🌱 How my interest in design started

An old photo of me (probably designing a website in Microsoft FrontPage) back in my motherland Estonia in 1999

As a teenager I loved building things that solve problems for others. I started to design websites for my secondary school when I was 13–14, carrying out what they now call a “digital transformation” of the school newspaper and homework delivery process for my maths and crafts classes, which saved teachers and students a ton of time.

Day and night, I was reading numerous design-related books, tinkering with graphics and HTML on my first 450 MHz Pentium III PC running Windows 98. I had a terrible handwriting not even myself could “decrypt”, so I was using my computer for most of my homework. The speed of designing and coding up a website and reaching out to so many people so quickly has been incredibly exciting for me (“Business at the Speed of Thought” title of Bill Gates’ book comes to mind). Gosh, I still got a copy of my first website optimised for Netscape Navigator…

And this is how my hobby turned into a profession. At the university I was spending about 70% of my time (my apologies to the professors!) commercially freelancing as a web designer for a few companies.

👨🏻‍💻 How I developed my passion for UX design

Me with Jonathan Ive at the premier of “Objectified” documentary by Gary Hustwit in London in 2009

Back then there was no such thing as a User Experience design or a UX designer.

You were a graphic/print designer, a web designer, a web developer… an “almighty” webmaster (whatever that ‘unicorn’ term meant back in the day) trying to design something good-looking on a screen using as much available technology as possible, and then trying to find a problem for your solution (hey, it’s still happening these days too) and that’s where the problem is.

Throughout numerous startup business ideas of my own, which I was implementing away for quite a few years, I’ve realised I cannot just *only* rely on my gut feeling for the best possible design solution, and instead do more of user research, where a more facts-based methodical design approach goes a long way — ideate, prototype, test, learn, iterate… “rinse, repeat”.

UX design is an interesting mix of business needs and user needs. Quite a few designers I know don’t pay too much attention to the business side of things. Yes, your design needs to solve a user’s problem, but if it doesn’t bring profit to the company, your career as a designer as that company will likely be “game over” soon too.

For me as a UX designer — seeing how my contributions to a design of a product or service help thousands of people on a daily basis, and making the business prosper — that’s what excites me and what I’m very passionate about.

🖼️ What inspires me

Screenshot of 3D Virtual Tour from The National Museum of Computing

I’ve always been interested in the history of computers, from hardware to software, with my favourite exhibitions at The Museum of Technology in Vienna and The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. The latter has launched a virtual tour in 3D which I recently enjoyed revisiting. I believe they now also run virtual guided tours with demonstrations of a working Enigma machine from World War 2.

And of course my favourite Design Museum — It was back in 2009 (time flies!) when the museum was located in Shad Thames. It was love at first sight. I used to visit it regularly, especially my favourite “Designs of the Year” exhibition that always brings a thought-provoking display of design projects from various industries (from architecture to automotive), which I learn a lot from and finding ways to apply in my digital design.

I had the chance to meet really inspiring people — I still remember a talk by Apple’s ex-design director Robert Brunner and PechaKucha-style evening. So much food for thought… and so many design items purchased from the museum shop (I’m still deciding where to place my Vitra’s ‘Algues’ decorations set) — they got me hooked.

📺 What I’m watching

Screenshot of Detectorists series website on BBC iPlayer

I’ve been watching “Detectorists” with Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook on BBC iPlayer — an easy-going with light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel series.

Last month there was an interesting documentary about British designers from Jonathan Ive to Terence Conran on BBC Two — “The Brits Who Designed the Modern World”.

I also recently re-watched Gary Hustwit’s “Helvetica”, “Objectified”, “Urbanised” and “Rams”, as well as season 2 of “Abstract: The Art of Design” on Netflix — cannot recommend enough!

🎧 What I’m listening

Here’s my Spotify playlist for you to enjoy

I’ve got quite a peculiar taste (please don’t judge me!) ranging from Chemical Brothers and “Café del Mar” albums, Travis and Beirut, to Max Richter and Andrea Bocelli.

I’ve recently found out about Poolside FM — an online radio station 📻 with a great compilation of uplifting beats.

🍳 What I’m cooking

My home-cooked lamb roast

Don’t get me started on food — my Instagram account is called EstonianFoodie :-). I love cooking! So far, I haven’t had a negative review on “Friends&Family-TrustPilot” (touch wood!); only an occasional observation about using too much of soured cream (we eat it a lot of it in our culture, adding it to soups, salads and even cakes) from my Venezuelan wife.

Nothings beats a hearty Sunday roast at home: here’s my recipe of a slow-cooked leg of lamb 🐑 with potatoes in goose fat and baby carrots:

1) Pan-sear a leg of lamb, then oven-roast for approx. 1 hour / 160°C fan together with caramelised carrots

2) Blanch potatoes, coat in flour, put into hot goose fat on the oven tray for 45 minutes, turn over from time to time

3) Rest lamb for 15 minutes

4) Serve with red wine gravy and horseradish sauce

Simples!” (pronounced in Sergei-the-meerkat accent)

🧳 Where I’m travelling to

Me in Kyoto, Japan in 2019

The trip of my lifetime has been to Japan 🇯🇵. I’ve visited Tokyo and Kyoto in 2019. The contrasting combination of past traditions and latest technology absolutely fascinated me. The locals were incredibly polite and welcoming (despite the language barrier).

I highly recommend a robot show, ninja experience, and digital art exhibition in Tokyo. And Kinkaku-ji temple, ramen-making class and maiko theatre in Kyoto.

🤙🏻 Where you can find me

Feel free to ping me on social media (I don’t bite… yet!):
Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.

This story was adapted from my original Q&A with the Design Museum back in 2020.

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Designer, entrepreneur and foodie from 🇪🇪. I run The School of UX https://schoolofux.com in London 🇬🇧. Previously UX at Microsoft, Heathrow, British Gas.

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Sergei Golubev

Sergei Golubev

Designer, entrepreneur and foodie from 🇪🇪. I run The School of UX https://schoolofux.com in London 🇬🇧. Previously UX at Microsoft, Heathrow, British Gas.

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